By Nico Manganiello & Zack Laware – 1851 Contributors
Photos courtesy of Beth Rioles
After a heart-breaking 7-6 loss in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) semifinals last season, the baseball team returns to play with 16 first-year athletes. But despite the inexperience of the team, expectations are still high. “Our goal is to win the [GNAC],” senior captain Matt Bischof said.
Head coach Billy Uberti also believes this team is capable of achieving great success. “I truly believe that we could win the conference this year. I don’t want to call it a rebuilding year, I know a lot of people expect me to say that, but I think the conference is up for grabs,” Uberti said.
Having a roster filled with so many new faces can be a challenge, but Uberti used the spring break trip to Fort Myers, Florida to learn more about his team. “[I worked on] figuring out the right pieces and who to put where. Learning as we go, with who we can depend on in the bullpen, starting games on the mound, different positions, moving guys around,” he said. “I think the biggest challenge is just figuring out the right formula for success for us.”
Both Uberti and Bischof have been pleased with the improvement the team has shown early in the season. “These guys have already learned a ton in the first two days here and we have seen improvement every single game,” Uberti said.
The comradery is another aspect Uberti is appreciating early in the season, as well as the support from the upperclassmen for his young team. “The comradery seems very strong. Obviously, there is going to be frustration from upperclassmen when you see guys make these mental mistakes [that] a junior or senior would never make. But they have been patient and supportive,” he said. “They understand for us to play at our highest level we are going to need these [first-years] because they do have some talent, a lot of talent… They know what they are capable of, they know how high the ceiling is.”
On the field, Uberti is excited to see what the team can prove and accomplish, especially with its deep pitching staff. “We’ll have a lot more cards in the deck to play within conference weekends,” he said. “We built this team around pitching and defense. At the end of the day, we believe that’s what it takes to win the conference.”
First baseman/pitcher Pierce Clare is one of the many new faces on the roster for the Lasers. Clare has appreciated the help from more experienced players and how they have made it easier to adjust to the college lifestyle.
“As a [first-year], I had no clue what to expect. When the second semester first started, one of our captains, Bryan Baumann, gave me tips on how to manage my school work and baseball,” Clare said. “The Florida trip taught me a lot. I was set to live in a room for that week with three players I was friendly with, and we bonded together every day. The whole trip is one I will never forget and learn from every day.”
Another first-year, Tyler DiNezza, played well during the Florida trip and is hitting .229 on the season. Perhaps more impressive is his fielding. The first baseman is second on the team in putouts so far 55 and has .983 defensive percentage.
Bischof has been sure to be a mentor for the first-years. “Staying on them, making sure they are doing their stuff, holding them accountable. Talking to them, getting their perspective, how they see things, then trying to give them mine as I’ve been here for four years,” Bischof said. “We just tell them ‘hey, it’s baseball we’re going to fail – it’s a game of failure and just got to learn not to focus on the failure.’”
With a new group of players this year, Uberti and company look to make an impact in the GNAC this year and make the rise to being one of the top contenders for the conference championship. “I am excited to see what this team, this group is capable of especially being so young, I am very excited honestly looking to the future 2-3 years I think we are going to be exceptionally good… but I really do think we can compete in the conference at a very high level this year,” said Uberti.